Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos

Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos

Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos

Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos

Synopsis

How did the ancient Maya rule their world? Despite more than a century of archaeological investigation and glyphic decipherment, the nature of Maya political organization and political geography has remained an open question. Many debates have raged over models of centralization versus decentralization, superordinate and subordinate status--with far-flung analogies to emerging states in Europe, Asia, and Africa. But Prudence Rice asserts that neither the model of two giant "superpowers" nor that which postulates scores of small, weakly independent polities fits the accumulating body of material and cultural evidence.In this groundbreaking book, Rice builds a new model of Classic lowland Maya (AD 179-948) political organization and political geography. Using the method of direct historical analogy, she integrates ethnohistoric and ethnographic knowledge of the Colonial-period and modern Maya with archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic data from the ancient Maya. On this basis of cultural continuity, she constructs a convincing case that the fundamental ordering principles of Classic Maya geopolitical organization were the calendar (specifically a 256-year cycle of time known as the may) and the concept of quadripartition, or the division of the cosmos into four cardinal directions. Rice also examines this new model of geopolitical organization in the Preclassic and Postclassic periods and demonstrates that it offers fresh insights into the nature of rulership, ballgame ritual, and warfare among the Classic lowland Maya.

Excerpt

I propose here that Classic Maya political organization is best understood by means of the direct-historical approach, that is, by retrodicting elements of Postclassic and early Colonial period organization back into the Classic period. I hypothesize that Classic (and also Preclassic) Maya geopolitico-religious organization was structured by Maya calendrical science, particularly the intervals of approximately twenty years (k’atun) and 256 years, or thirteen k’atuns (may ‘cycle’). By analogy with Postclassic and early Colonial period Yucatán, Mexico, Classic sites hosting the may for 256-year periods were capitals of territories in which k’atun seats rotated among other dependent sites. Portions of the elaborate ceremonies carried out when the Postclassic calendrical cycles ended and began anew can be recognized in the images and inscriptions on Classic-period carved monuments at Tikal, Guatemala, and other southern lowland sites. May and k’atun seats can be identified archaeologically by the erection of stelae commemorating k’atun endings and shared distinctive architectural complexes associated with the celebration of these calendrical observations. In addition, the may hypothesis provides insights into the nature of rulership, ballgame ritual, and warfare among the Classic lowland Maya.

My interpretation of the role of the 256-year k’atun round, or may, in Classic Maya political history had its origins in several circumstances— most of them outgrowths of my own history in the field of Maya archaeology—in which I found myself in the mid-1990s. The immediate impetus for writing this book was a need to incorporate textual and iconographic information from the carved monuments around the central Petén lakes into an understanding of the Terminal Classic period in the region. This began as a fairly easily delimited effort to establish the Terminal Classic terminus post quem of Proyecto Maya-Colonial’s investigation of the Postclassic and Colonial period histories of the Maya in this area. As I inventoried the relatively few and poorly known late stelae and altars at sites around the lake basins, I realized the impor-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.